5 Habits of Truly Happy People
Let the Joy Shine Through
A number of years ago, after decades of hard work, I finally had everything I thought I wanted. My first book became a number one New York Times bestseller. I met and married Sergio, my Italian Prince Charming, and we bought a lovely house. I had every reason to be happy. And I was happy about the things in my life. But I wasn't really happy inside.
Looking around, I saw that some of the happiest people I knew weren't the ones who "had it all." Some had health challenges. Others didn't have a dime. What was their secret? I was determined to find out.
I threw myself into the study of happiness, consulting experts and scientific research. I also found and interviewed 100 people whose happiness isn't dependent on external circumstances. I call them the Happy 100. It's not that they are always euphoric -- they may have sadness, fear, anger, or pain.
But they still experience the underlying peace and well-being that's the essence of true happiness, where you bring happiness to your experiences, rather than trying to extract happiness from them. I call this state Happy for No Reason.
I came away from my interviews with clear evidence that happy people live their lives differently. Some of the Happy 100 were simply born with happy dispositions. But most learned to be happy by thinking and living in a particular way.
In fact, I found 21 "happiness habits" that all these deeply happy people share.
Our habits do affect our happiness, and neuroscientists have recently discovered why. Habitual thoughts and behaviors create specific neural pathways in the wiring in our brains, the way water flowing downhill creates a groove in the earth. When we think or behave a certain way over and over, the neural pathway is strengthened and the groove becomes deeper. Unhappy people tend to have more negative neural pathways -- their minds are literally stuck in a rut.
Scientists used to think these neural pathways were set in stone. But new research shows that when you repeatedly think, feel, and act in a different way, the brain actually rewires itself. This means you can change your happiness set point.
Leading brain researcher Richard Davidson, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said, "Based on what we know about the plasticity of the brain, we can think of happiness as a skill no different from learning to play a musical instrument...it is possible to train our minds to be happy."
When acquiring a new skill, it pays to learn from the pros. Here are five key things I've learned from the Happy 100.